Uber not interested in any more Grab-style deals, signaling its international retreat could be over

  • Uber will no longer take minority stakes in rival ride-hailing companies globally, COO Barney Harford told CNBC.
  • Uber recently sold its Southeast Asia business to Singapore-based rival Grab.
  • The comments could signal that Uber is done retreating from some of its international markets.

Uber will no longer take minority stakes in rival ride-hailing companies globally, a top executive at the company told CNBC on Wednesday, potentially signaling an end to its retreat from markets outside of the United States.

The company recently sold its Southeast Asia business to Singapore-based rival Grab in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in the firm. A similar deal was struck in 2016 when Uber sold its Chinese business to Didi Chuxing. Uber subsequently took a 5.89 percent stake in the company.

SoftBank, which took a large stake in Uber, has been urging it to focus on its core markets.

In an interview with CNBC's Hadley Gamble in Dubai, Uber Chief Operating Officer Barney Harford, said that the Middle East and North Africa are key markets, and the company will no longer be doing deals in which it sells its business for a small stake in another.

"What we have been very clear about is that going forward we have no interest in doing transactions for minority stakes," he said. "It will be crazy for us as a hyper-growth company, to not engage in conversations about potential partnerships.

"But we have been very clear, the markets that we remain in today are core markets for us, we are doubling down on our investment and we are very committed to these markets."

In the Middle East, Careem is Uber's main rival. It has operations in 13 countries and in over 90 cities. When asked if Uber would do a similar deal with Careem as it did with Grab, Harford told CNBC it was unlikely.

"I think the Southeast Asia situation is very different. There were three players in that market, we had a smaller position... we operate in a position of very clear strength here in the Middle East and North African market, and as I said we have been very clear that we have no interest in doing minority deals going forward," he said.

Harford's comments could signal that Uber is done retreating from some of its international markets, given that the deals with Grab and Didi were used as a way to exit Southeast Asia and China, respectively.

Correction: This story has been modified to indicate the location of the interview with Harford.